Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Anyone who gave a listen to Volume Two of my Black Art + Machine Gun Funk series has already heard two of the strongest tracks on this record, but I'm here today to push the whole slab. Because it's pretty damn good.
I think you can look at the fantastic cover art and know how good it is, although I guess I wouldn't have expected a 14-piece soul combo to sound this loose and reasonable. Large funk or soul groups can get pretty airtight, locking into huge swingin' grooves, losing all the looseness and grit that makes this kind of music so rich. But the Memphis-based Brothers Unlimited mostly avoid this problem, laying down Southern-soulful psychedelic funk-rock that's both tight and loose, deep with layers of production that take a lot of spontaneous turns and contain a lot of surprises. There are a lot of boys in this ensemble, but they aren't all just piling on the rhythm section with horns. They are up to tricks in there.
The "social consciousness" tracks are the strongest element here. They aren't particularly profound in their message, but they don't need to be. Like many groups of the era, these guys were just trying to tap into the zeitgeist of the early days of the Black Power 70's and that alone lends the work content and makes them interesting. Of course it wouldn't matter if the music didn't sound so hot n' fresh, but luckily it does. The opening track, "Who's for the Young", an earnest anthem of soulful black rock with nasty guitars, huge organs, and shades of the Isley Brothers, is the standout track- but it's no isolated incident. The blend of styles is successfully pulled off many more times on the record; in the hectoring "Hey Little Rich Boy", the rock-tinged southern soul of "Get Away", the cosmic, searching, mind-blowing "Life, Dreams, Death" (which almost sounds like a super-groovy Uriah Heep song or something), and a version of "Spoonful" dipped deep in psychedelic echo. Not every track is a winner-- "Got to Get Over" is the worst, bland to the point of dire-- but even some of the misses are interesting. A version of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" is so inferior to Baby Huey's that it's hard to even hear, but it's still a fine version of a great song, and the album closer "What We Need Is Harmony" tries for another huge anthem and falls a bit short. Again, though, it's still pretty good.
The peaks of this record are sky high, making it extremely worthwhile, and I recommend it very highly to anyone who enjoyed Black Art + Machine Gun Funk or Purple Image, or anything else in the glorious intersection of funk&black rock. Get on it and let me know what you think.
WHO'S FOR THE YOUNG (256)
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Electreasure Tronics From The Growing Bin: Peru- Continents, Constellations; Rolf Trostel- Two Faces, Der Prophet; Proxyon- S/t; Charlie- Spacer Woman
The Growing Bin is a true treasure of the internet, a deep river of e-music rarities and other out-of-print esoteric wonders. Good as it is, however, its almost total lack of write-ups (especially in the earlier days) and dizzying, enormous archives make it easy to miss some of its real gems. So here's some wonderful albums that I've been really into that I'd like to tip you towards with a high recommendation, if you're interested.
Edit: It seems some of these links are dead over at The Bin, so I've uploaded new links.
Peru's 1983 album Continents is fantastic. Of course, I'm a sucker for any album that promises to take me on a musical journey around the globe, and here, Peru paints a sound-picture of the various geographical regions of the world. They operate very much in a pseudo-Berlin School mode, using chilly sequencers and electric drums toward a slightly poppy, almost cheesy sound. Somewhere between the new age-y accessibility of Oxygene and the trashy soundtrack sensibility of Tony Carey's instrumental records-- but even better than I'm making it sound. This is actually one of my favorite albums of the genre.
Constellations is almost as good, and has essentially the same palate of sounds, although somewhat colder and spacier, naturally, and without the globe-trotting conceit. Like Continents, it's just excellent, enjoyable cosmic synth music.
CONSTELLATIONS (link fixed, 192)
more Peru to be found here
Though Rolf Trostel's Two Faces is legitimately Berlin School (later-period, with shorter compositions), it's actually pretty similar to Peru, albeit a good bit more serious and Kraut-oriented. Again, it's also very similar to Oxygene, which I keep using as a reference point not just because it's one of my favorite records, but also because it's one of the best sellers of all time. Like Oxygene, Two Faces finds the cold goliath of Berlin School sound moving into what could even be called a more mainstream sensibility, touching tips gingerly with new age and synth-pop.
These are totally listenable, eminently enjoyable synthstrumentals. Deep tracks like a warm metallic ocean.
TWO FACES (link fixed, 320)
More of the same, basically. I gather it's even from the same year, more or less. If anything, it's even warmer and deeper-- closer to Tangerine Dream territory. Really, really good.
DER PROPHET (192)
Proxyon is in the same ballpark as Peru, but it's just really, really goofy. Handclaps galore, doofy disco beats, vocoder vocals, orchestra hits, huge pop hooks. Super fun stuff, and every track has the word "space" in the title. "Space Guards", "Space Travellers", "Space Hopper", "Space Fly (Magic Fly)", "Space Warriors", "Space Hopper (Space Dub)".
Hilarious, but also incredibly satisfying in the correct context.
I'm just gonna tack this little beauty on the end here... Holly recommended this in the comments, and it's extra dope. Similar to the space-disco of Proxyon, with fembot vocals and relentless rhythm. Handclaps that sound like heavy-duty tinfoil getting whacked with a stick and double-tracked with TV static. So awesome. Thanks, Holly.
SPACER WOMAN (192)
Monday, January 23, 2012
Here's Alessi, the debut LP from the acceptably handsome twin brothers Billy and Bobby Alessi. The sound here will likely make sense in the context of the milieu of quintessentially Californian, 70's middle-of-the-road, teen-oriented radio pop acts, and sounds a lot like late-period Bee Gees ballads, The Carpenters, or later Beach Boys (especially some of the Bruce Johnston material). On that level, the record is interesting enough; there may not be a song on here as good as the Beach Boy's "Tears in the Morning," but they're all at least as good as "Deirdre" (which almost seems to be the blueprint for their sound). Fortunately, it doesn't need to function solely as a derivative also-ran to better acts, or solely as a time capsule, because it's actually pretty great in its own way.
Don't get me wrong, it's no forgotten masterpiece (edit- or is it? Or is it?). It's just an immensely lovable slice of breezy boatin' music with extremely decent songwriting, sugary harmonies, and just enough drum machines and weird synthesizer flourishes to give it teeth. It's the kind of thing that should be playing out of a little baby blue portable radio while you lounge in a deck chair, watching gals in white bikinis frolic in the pool. Perfect for a falling-in-love montage that involves a yellowy sunset and feathered hair on the beach, smiling on a clean white sailboat, tennis shorts on the boardwalk... I conjure up these clichés to stress the archetypal specificity, rather than to illustrate nostalgia-inflamed kitsch-- but please, have fun with this record in your own way.
While the majority of the album is as chipper and wholesome as a 14-year old girl pinning up an Alessi Bros Tiger Beat fold out, some of the best moments are when it gets ever so slightly weird, exemplified in the bookends "Do You Feel It?", drenched in synths and graced by a white-funky rhythm workout to die for (dipping its toe into Dennis Wilson territory), and "Seabird", a drum-machine driven curio with intriguingly imperfect double-tracking and wonderful lyrics. Both of these tracks manage to be actually cool, and "Seabird" is a teeny tiny masterpiece, single-handedly elevating the quality and integrity of the entire record.
Updated opinions: I just wanted to pop in and say that I haven't been able to stop listening to this. It's so much better than it seems at a first glance. So amazing. Upgraded to masterpiece status.
And here's a video for the album's single, "Oh Lori", which became a top ten hit in eighteen countries (non-US)-- and their only hit until another in 1982 (this time in the US).
Thursday, January 19, 2012
It would be pretty hard to overstate the brilliance of I'm A Loser. Doris Curry and Swamp Dogg's little masterpiece of deep soul is so real and bracingly bleak it leaves the listener feeling as though they've been dunked in cold water and thrown on the streets in the middle of the night, heartbroken. While it may not be unusual for a soul record of any stripe to mine the subject of heartbreak for material, only I'm A Loser takes it so far: "I Don't Care Anymore" tells a story of a naive country girl lost and jobless in post-industrial America, shattered by bad finance and abusive relationships, numbly living out her days in a motel room turning tricks. That's not just love gone bad-- it's the apocalypse of romance. Listen to the frank, matter-of-fact way she delivers the song's documentary lyrics, and try not to get choked up from somewhere deep inside you.
"I Don't Care Anymore" contains perhaps the album's most sensational subject matter, but it doesn't play it up one whit (it's tone far from some camp cautionary tale), and it fairly well encapsulates the themes of the record: wholly unromantic descriptions of heartbreak, poverty, hopelessness, and utter, consuming despair. "Feet Start Walking" may be most shattering tale of rejection ever committed to wax. "Ghost of Myself", a song on the verge of suicide, opens with lines, "You laughed, I cried/ You lived, I died... I gave you honey, you gave me dirt." "We're More Than Strangers" comes to grips with total alienation within a relationship, followed by "Divorce Decree" (naturally), which soberly contemplates the bitter freedom allowed by the death of love and ending of commitment. It is one of the peppier tunes on the album.
The final track, "To The Other Woman (I'm The Other Woman)" was actually a pretty decent hit- the theme, of course, is that her man's "other woman" is actually his wife, and while it rhymes "degradation" with "obligation" and contains devastating passages such as "Everybody calls me stupid for playing second fiddle... at least I know I'm number two," it may be the record's closest shot at describing a livable existence, if not quite anything approaching happiness or security. True love does not enter this picture.
Before you think this is the type of sob story you'd rather skip, allow me to request-- fuck it, I'll insist-- that you reconsider. This is a stupefyingly brilliant album, and a lot of the majesty of it is watching them pull off the tonal balancing act. The production is positively phenomenal, understated but endlessly clever, never stooping to emotional manipulation of any kind. The same goes for Ms. Duke's vocal performance. When she sings that she doesn't care if she lives or dies, tells a man that he "took away her womanhood" or that she feels like an "addict hooked on drugs," there's never a cheap appeal to your base sympathy. She's just telling the truth, in a frank matter; neither hiding nor revealing her feelings, they seem to move through her as though she can't help it. She's also a just positively wonderful singer, her restrained style gruff n' tuff on top and tender deep below.
This is an amazing work of bold soul art. Treat it well and enjoy.
I'M A LOSER (224)
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Sometimes Songs are Perfect: Gloria Ann Taylor- Deep Inside You EP (197?); Total Disaster Single (1971)
If you haven't heard this massive little sliver of mind-blowing excellence-- recently posted at the wonderful spot Allegory of Allergies-- you should. Oh, how fine it is! Two spooky soul-funk joints crawling with exotic drum-machine boops, spiderweb guitar, and delicate trails of echo and mellotron sounds, followed by a melancholy left-field string-disco revelation. I will be playing this EP over and over again until it makes me nauseous. It is so good. It melts a man.
DEEP INSIDE YOU
I did some looking around and I found another single from Mrs. Gloria: "Total Disaster". It's good stuff, but a bit more conventional. It's still a really nice soul single along the lines of the Supremes or Martha and the Vandellas, and it comes with some rougher edges, good strings, raga guitar, and a great use of hand drums.
I found it on Derek's Daily 45, and you will too (alright, his link is dead so I upped it here).
Thank the dudes who do these blogs!
UPDATE: A gentleman commenter by the name of Nick has left a link in the comments to an additional piece of the puzzle, an excellent track by Gloria's husband/producer/conductor of the Walter Whisenhunt Orchestra, Mr. Walter Whisenhunt. The track, "I'm Saluting You For Your Love", is more along the gently trippy lines of the work found on the Deep Inside You EP. It also bears a more than striking resemblance to the Marvin Gaye tune, "Ego Trippin'", which doesn't have to be a bad thing.
Check out the sounds and give a holler if you have a line on a download of this song or any other Gloria Ann Taylor or Walter Whisenhunt material.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
It's 2012. May I venture into this unknowable new year with you, my friend?
Here's a quickie post to get back in the game. I'm still a man on the Holiday Ride so I don't have the kind of "blog time" at my disposal that I might like, but the sabbatical has come an end. Even Achewood is back-- so, so must I be.
To kick off this savage año nuevo with some cautious, skeletal optimism, I offer you Herman Chin Loy's Aquarius Dub. Thought of as one of the very first dub projects, it comes off as pretty tentative and bare bones, but its humble charms and bright-eyed sense of discovery are not to be ignored. "Heavy Duty" is an extremely cool cut, the whole thing has a low-key funk/Meters-y sensibility, and yes indeed there's a Carole King cover.
Sorry if some tracks are mislabeled, I'm not 100% sure if this is a problem on this rip (courtesy You & Me on a Jamboree).
So get it or don't. Just know that I am back and we are still in this awful old world together.
I promise some more exciting, unique flavors will issue forth from the mouth of this place, and soon, but for now I'm still gettin' back in the saddle.